The Blob lives on thanks to Gove reforms

I recently had the great privilege and pleasure of working with a group of SCITT trainees, talking about the use of research in education.

It was inspiring to see such enthusiasm and professionalism from a varied group of people, covering a range of ages and backgrounds. It was refreshing to see people excited about teaching and pedagogy.

The guy who is in charge of this particular SCITT is a wonderful eccentric, brimming with the fervour of a man who loves his job.

The whole experience made me feel quite positive about the future of the teaching profession if these folks are a fair reflection of those entering it.

However, during our conversations I was stunned to hear some of the dreadful and depressing things that these guys are being told in schools.

For some context, SCITT programmes are school-based teacher training courses which give trainees a focused on-the-job training route. In this particular case, trainees come together in a “hub” to reflect and share practice. So, it isn’t the hub as such that trains them; it is the staff within he schools who do that.

Such programmes help to fulfil Michael Gove’s desire to wrench teacher training out of the hands of the progressives who (apparently) run education departments in universities and who fill trainees’ heads with dangerous and harmful ideas about student-centred teaching and so on. Instead, trainees get trained in schools, by teachers and school leaders who can shape new teachers in their own image, grounded in the realities of daily practice and with a true desire to drive up educational standards instead of being “enemies of promise”.

There is a slight flaw in the plan which is this: Schools are too often dens of deceit and untruths. Schools protect and feed myths as if suffering Stockholm syndrome. It isn’t the education departments of universities that are the Blob, but schools themselves that are riddled with ideologies, and driven by paranoia and self-preservation that are doing Bad Things in the vain hope of achieving Something Good.

For instance, many of the trainees were astonished to discover that VAK is #EduLasagne.

Many more were gob smacked when I showed them the Ofsted handbook and Guidance for Schools documents which clearly state that they don’t need to see a lesson plan. One poor chap showed me his file of lesson plans that he’d had to produce during a recent Ofsted inspection – which all teachers in the school had been told to do. Their lesson plans had to detail timings for every little bit of the lesson; they were told that if Ofsted came into their lesson and they weren’t at the point the plan specified at that time, then they would be penalised. This was not a unique anecdote within the group.

Another trainee mentioned that her school demands data entry every three weeks. This data includes a level (yes, the ones that don’t exist anymore), and grades for effort, behaviour and so on. Every. Three. Weeks.

Numerous trainees told me of their school marking policies which are filled with green pen and a system which sounds entirely like triple marking. Again, the reaction to the section of the Handbook on marking was palpable.

One particularly frustrated young man asked me, “So if Ofsted don’t want us to do all this stuff, why are we doing it?”

Everyone looked at me expectantly, their eyes filled with the hope that I would be able to give them an answer which might save them from the ridiculousness of it all.

“That’s a good question,” I replied.

A question about the “53% of *all* teachers plan to quit” business.

It’s been popping up on Twitter quite a bit today, and all over the national press it seems. The Guardian claims that “Half of all teachers in England threaten to quit as morale crashes”, whilst similar headlines can be found from The Telegraph, The Independent, The Daily Mail and the BBC.

Whilst the NUT press release does not use the word “all”, it certainly implies it.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that there isn’t a morale crisis in state schools at the moment. And I’m not suggesting that I know for certain that 53% of all teachers aren’t thinking of leaving. But this survey and, more specifically, the way in which it has been reported are seriously misleading.

Before I go any further let me make something clear: I am not a statistician. I don’t really do numbers. In fact, numbers and I cross the road to avoid each other. Numbers is the language that Satan uses to confuse mortals. So, please do help me to see things differently if I’ve got all this terribly wrong.

Using the numbers given from the NUT (this is an .xlsx file) we see straight away a problem. The total number of participants is 1020. This may sound like quite a lot, until we see that, according to the most recently available data from the government,  “in November 2011, there were 438,000 teachers in state-funded schools in England on a full-time equivalent basis”

I realise, of course, that that figure will have changed. But even if the teacher shortage crisis means we’ve lost 38,000 teachers since then, that would still be 400,000 teachers in England. Using the published number, the NUT survey is dealing with a sample of 1020 out of a population of 438,000. This is 0.23% of the teaching population who responded to the survey. Less than 1 whole percent.

Of those 1020 participants, the NUT data table tells us that 53% said they were thinking of leaving the profession. That’s 53% of 0.23% of the total teaching population in England. Incidentally, the number given in the data table is 536.

The data also tell us that of those 536 teachers who are planning to leave the profession, around a third of them are aiming to retire (34%).

I’ve been told, and have read, that such a sample size for such a population is deemed to be quite good. I find this, in itself, quite staggering, and reason enough to doubt the efficacy of such surveys and such an approach to social science. But, it is only deemed good if the sample is random.

The NUT website gives no indication that I can find about how the participants were recruited to the survey. And so far I’ve been unable to locate any reference to it on the YouGov website. My suspicion is that the survey was conducted online and probably via a link sent to members of the NUT via email, or perhaps through other member communication. This in itself would raise questions for me about how securely warranted any claims that this survey reflects “all teachers” might be. There is an assumption, if I’m right, that the NUT membership is genuinely reflective of the general teaching population. Furthermore, this survey only reflects the views of those NUT members who could be bothered to take the survey. What views are such teachers likely to hold?

I’m not saying there isn’t a genuine issue at the heart of this. There probably is. But can anyone out there tell me how this survey can really tell us anything? Is it typical of social science? If so, educational research is buggered.